Your Reading List

Two January calves were a surprise

JANUARY 1, 2013

With the cold stormy weather we decided not to wean Michael and Carolyn’s summer calves, and leave them on their mothers a while longer, since those cows won’t be calving until May and later. We preg-checked and vaccinated the cows and calves while Michael was home from North Dakota and the kids were still home from college. I fed everybody lunch here after they got done working cattle. We put their cows and calves down in our lower field. Carolyn, Lynn and Andrea can feed them here, with the round bale processor.

Thursday before Christmas we all had supper here (Andrea and kids and Rick, Michael and Carolyn and kids). The next day Lynn and Michael went to town to meet with the Farm Bureau Insurance claims adjuster. She assessed the damage on our flatbed trailer (totalled) and said the insurance might pay for what a used trailer of that age might be worth, but will pay only $1,000 toward fixing our John Deere tractor. The damage to Michael’s pickup bed will be fully covered. The day after Christmas he drove it to Blackfoot where the old box bed was removed and a new flatbed put on it.

The morning after he got his pickup fixed, Michael left early to drive straight through to North Dakota, back to his job driving trucks. He hauled 20 new truck tires back there, for the outfit he’s working for.

With our big tractor still being repaired, Rick and Andrea helped Lynn put a hayfork loader on our smaller tractor, so we can load big bales. Lynn brought some big alfalfa bales around to my stack yard, for feeding our heifers.

We’ve been feeding the two fillies a little grain and alfalfa pellets (mostly to the weanling Willow and only a handful to Spotty Dottie) in this cold weather. Andrea and I have been leading them a few times, but not as regularly as when the weather was nicer.

JANUARY 10

Lynn did chores for one of the neighbours for two weeks while they were visiting their children and grandchildren in California. The weather got really cold and froze their water, but he was able to get it thawed out. We are breaking ice daily at the creek for the cows. Last Wednesday when Lynn started our tractor to move some big bales, the diesel gelled up. We apparently didn’t have enough Power Service in the mix.

Sunday, Emily went with Lynn and me to feed our cows. She had her first practice session driving our feed truck. While we were on Heifer Hill feeding, a friend of Rick’s drove in that driveway in a little car, and spun out. Lynn didn’t have a chain or rope to pull the car, so he tied the baling twines together from the bales we’d just fed to pull the car up out of the driveway.

Later that morning Nick stopped by. Lynn helped him install a new toolbox in the bed of his pickup, then Nick drove back to college in Iowa. Young Heather went back to Helena last week for her final semester. She’ll be graduating in May.

JANUARY 17

Last Friday it was Lynn’s turn to feed with the processor. Carolyn had to work at the vet clinic. When Lynn pulled out into the field he found a newborn calf. Most of the cows Michael and Carolyn bought last summer had very young calves at side or were ready to calve, but three had large calves and had a chance to breed before they were sold. When our vet preg checked them a few weeks ago he said this old cow, #206, would probably calve in January but the other two wouldn’t calve until April.

It was cold and windy, but #206 probably calved in the brush where the cows were bedding. The new calf was dry, and had nursed. Later that morning Rick helped Lynn adjust the processor to blow hay out the side, and they spread an extra bale of grass into the edge of the brush for more bedding.

Andrea took Emily to her hockey tournament in Kalispell, Montana Friday through Sunday. Their team won all four games, for the first time ever.

Saturday morning it was -26 C. It took awhile to break ice out of all the horse tubs and open water holes in the creek ice. We fed all the cows extra hay. Carolyn had to leave for work early in the morning so she left the blankets on Molly and Chance (their two skinny old horses) because it was still cold. Lynn and I drove up there late morning to take off the blankets and put more wood in Carolyn’s stove.

It was cold again on Sunday. When Lynn and Carolyn fed cows they discovered another newborn calf from one of the cows that was supposed to calve in April. The calf was cold but seemed OK, and had nursed at least one teat. After sub-zero weather for several more days, this new born wasn’t doing as well as the older calf. When Andrea and Carolyn fed the cows Tuesday they saw the younger calf laying on the old feed trail, on its back, stuck between two big frozen manure piles. The calf looked dead, but raised its head when they approached with the tractor and processor.

They jumped out, with an ax handle for a weapon in case the mother cow was aggressive, and grabbed the calf. The cow was worried but didn’t attack. It was a big calf, about 90 pounds — about all Andrea could lift while Carolyn held off the cow. Then Andrea handed the calf to Carolyn and climbed up into the tractor, grabbing the front legs of the calf as Carolyn handed it up and pushed on the back end. They got it into the cab, finished feeding (not much room in the tractor) and brought the calf to the house.

We spent the rest of the day thawing and warming that calf. It must have been stuck on its back quite awhile. Perhaps a cow knocked it down or rooted it out of the way, rolling it between the frozen manure piles. It’s body temperature was below 80 F; too low to register on my thermometer. We lay the calf on blankets by the wood stove with a hot pad under her, using warm water on its cold stiff feet. I injected dextrose under its skin in several places. After we started warming the calf, we tubed it with 1-1/2 quarts of warm water with powdered colostrum mixed in. We thought this might give her more energy than regular milk replacer. The calf hadn’t nursed for a while; it was dehydrated and didn’t urinate until evening when we gave her another 1-1/2 quarts of colostrum mix. By that time her temperature was rising, up to 99 degrees (normal for a calf is 101.5) and she was strong enough to stand.

Lynn, Carolyn and Charlie (who was here doing homework after school) took the calf to Carolyn’s house to stay in their basement by the wood stove. Carolyn fed it a bottle at 2 a.m. and again at 8 a.m. She stayed home from work yesterday, and after she and Andrea fed the cows, they put the calf back out with its mother. Lynn and I were outside feeding the two fillies their grain when I heard Andrea yelling, so he went to see what was happening and I led both fillies back to their pen. The cow was kicking at the calf, so Andrea and Carolyn were bringing the pair to the barnyard.

Once we got the pair into the corral the cow let the calf nurse, and we could see she had a very sore hind teat — the end was raw from frostbite. So we put the pair in a small pen by our barn where we can monitor them. We shoveled snow away from the windbreak and bedded it with hay. The old cow is smart and acts like she’s been handled on foot before; she made herself at home in the pen. She’s an old cow, without much milk, but we can pamper her here. This morning (-26 Celsius again) the calf was cold, but nursing, so we won’t have to raise it on a bottle. †

About the author

Heather Smith Thomas's recent articles

Comments

explore

Stories from our other publications